Take time to look at the broad palmate leaves of the western sycamore while hiking in San Diego’s first natural park.
In 1971, San Clemente Canyon became San Diego’s first officially dedicated natural park. It was rededicated as Marian R. Bear Memorial Park in 1979 for her role in preventing Highway 52 from being built in the San Clemente creek bed. She also helped in preserving Tecolote Canyon and passage of Proposition C, a $65 million open-space preservation plan for the acquisition of major parcels of park preserves within the City of San Diego. Mrs. Marian Bear was one of the city’s most active and persistent defenders of open-space preservation.
San Clemente East is centrally located with easy access to a riparian woodland habitat. This scarce environment is only meters in width, but with vegetation that is both dense and diverse. This is one of the most productive for wildlife, due to relatively abundant water and cold air drainage.
Start walking eastward on the dirt road toward I-805, crossing the creek bed that can be impassable during significant rain. Stay on the trail, as there is an abundance of poison oak growing among the riparian indicator species of sycamore, mule fat, and willows.
There are two south side trips to lengthen your walk; the first is Cobb Trail, an interesting shaded trail where at the end there are steps up to Cobb Drive. Walking up the steps and back add exercise before returning to the main trail. Another side trip follows high-voltage power lines up along an open trail to Conrad Avenue. Return to the main trail and continue east until reaching I-805, at which time, retrace your steps back to the parking lot.
Take time to look at the broad palmate leaves of the western sycamore (Platanus racemosa) and follow the molted light bark for perching birds and nests. Binoculars can help differentiate the two most common hawks found in the area.
Red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis), the most common Buteo in North America, can be seen soaring on large broad wings or perched in sycamore trees. They hunt from perch or soaring position, catching rodents, small mammals, snakes, and rarely a bird. The three foot in diameter, large bulking platform type nest of sticks and twigs tends to be in more exposed sites, though reused by common ravens, great horned owls, and other hawks. Red-shouldered hawks (Buteo lineatus) mostly hunt from perch, catching rodents, insects, and small birds.
San Clemente Canyon joins the Rose Creek tributary near I-5 on its route to Mission Bay near the Kendall Frost Marsh. The 23,427-acre Rose Canyon Watershed that starts from runoff on the western slopes of Scripps Ranch goes through MCAS Miramar and joins with Rose and Stevenson Canyons and their tributaries. Mileage can be extended a number of ways: walk the three sections of San Clemente Canyon, adding Rose Canyon; side trips to Stanley Park; and even through a combination of trails and streets and the addition of Tecolote Canyon.
Canyoneers are San Diego Natural History Museum volunteers trained to lead interpretive nature walks that teach appreciation for the great outdoors. For a schedule of free public hikes, refer to the San Diego Natural History Museum website.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 12 miles. Allow 20 minutes driving time. From I-5 north, merge onto SR-52 east, exit on Genesee Avenue, then right again into the Marian Bear Park parking lot. Restrooms and water at trailhead.
Hiking length: 2.5 miles. Open year round for hikers and bicyclists. Dogs on a leash permitted. Best time to visit is Sunday mornings when traffic sounds are lowest. Rain can limit access.
Difficulty: Easy, with little elevation gain/loss. On the side of the trail you may occasionally see and need to avoid poison oak.